My Shadow left me today. I will miss him, but I know I will be better off. He was holding me back, pulling me down. We’re just too different, my Shadow and I. He wants to standstill, stay comfortable. I need to push myself, embrace the unknown and turn toward the future.
My Shadow has been with me as long as I can remember, following me everywhere, his dark shape lurking behind me. Most of the time I forget he is even there. The first time I noticed the pull of my Shadow, felt his strength, was in high school. I wanted to try out for the basketball team. My Shadow reminded me gently at first, then louder that I was slow and not athletic, that I couldn’t shoot and I should sit right back down. Though I pushed past those words, I felt his power over me.
I know everyone has a Shadow, but it took me a while to understand how a Shadow can weigh on a person. I didn't hear anyone else’s Shadow telling them what they could not do, what they could not be. I did not see anyone else's internal struggle, but I felt mine. My Shadow whispers insidious dark words to me, repeating all my worst fears. My Shadow announces himself whenever I try to be something more than what I am, to become the person I know I could be. My Shadow speaks to me whenever I want to ask for a promotion, to get out of bed for the gym, to start a business, to write a novel.
I am trying to be a better writer, in blog posts, creative short stories, and long detective mysteries. Sometimes I sense the spark of an idea, and if I can sit down and write, I can encourage the spark to catch, build into something more. That, of course, is when my Shadow shows up to get in the way. The only thing I am sure about, is for me to keep that spark lit, I need my fingers on the keyboard, the pen in my hand. Writers write. My Shadow knows this too, and does whatever he can to stop me.
I know everyone has a Shadow, but mine has to be the most devious, tricking me to do what he wants.
“Yes,” my Shadow will say, “of course you can start writing, what a good idea! Yes, you are going to be a great writer, but why don’t you start tomorrow? Today is the day to clean behind the refrigerator.” Or my Shadow will distract me. “Look outside, the sun is out! You can not waste this day sitting inside!” My Shadow often suggests I should take a break, especially when the next sentence is stuck, or I falter in my steps toward my goal. My Shadow knows me too well, encouraging me to give up right at the moment when I trip. He knows that once I take a short break, it is harder for me to go back.
“Just look at the Twitter feed or Facebook, or Instagram. You will only need to look for a moment- ” My Shadow loves for me to multitask, to have five things going at once, so I will not complete the one that is actually important.
“Was that a ping?” My Shadow will ask, innocently. “ You should check your email, something urgent must have happened in the last 5 minutes.”
My Shadow whispers to me, bullying me to not even try. “Your creative spark is dying, guttering in its candle holder. Just give it up.” He hit me where it hurts, the truth. In my professional life, invention is not rewarded, mundane and prosaic are encouraged, and safe. I have let my creative muscles atrophy from lack of use. My Shadow loves to remind me of my weak muscles. “Don't strain yourself,” he says, kindly. “Just lie back down and let the experts do it, here is another science fiction book, and there is another show to watch on Netflix.” My Shadow grows stronger in the glow of the flat screen TV, he sits next to me on the couch, fat and content. I have lost more battles than I care to count with my Shadow.
I have fought my Shadow in well lit coffee shops, greasy-spoon diners and dim bars. With a notebook and pen, I sat at the small tables just like a ‘Real Writer’. I imagined myself as Hemingway or Poe, James Patterson or NK Jemisin, someone who writes easily and eloquently, stories flying from my pen. I drowned my Shadow in coffee or beer to get the sparks flying. But my ideas, slippery as quicksilver came too fast, burned bright as a Fourth of July sparkler, and then left, burnt out. Images in my mind were clear and true for, until they weren’t. I became distracted, too drunk or jittery to think straight. I was left only with clues to what I was thinking, but not the kernel. My shadow won, back in charge, stronger than ever.
I am scared of my Shadow, because he knows me too well. Yet, I know him too and he has his own weaknesses. My Shadow doesn’t like company. When I have a partner, someone to walk with on my journey to my goals my Shadow stays in the background, quiet. A partner holds me accountable, to myself.
All Shadows hate light. Mine does not not want to have his suggestions discussed and analyzed.
“You are a terrible writer,” My Shadow says, “no one will ever read what you write and you are wasting your time.”
In the light, I can hold up these comments to ask “Is this true?”
I know it is not. I might not be the best writer, but I have read others who are worse. I might be wasting my time, but what else would I be doing, more TV, more screen time? I do too much of both already. The few hours aren't missed, and I feel better when I am done. I drag my Shadow into the light, question his lies and he shrinks and thins, weak enough that I can stomp him under my feet. I have learned other people have named their Shadow, to help them to bring theirs out into the sun. I called him out. “Be gone Shadow!” “Leave this place, you Inner Critic!” “You are a liar, Gremlin!”
I have learned my Shadow does not want me to make good choices, but if it is something I do everyday, then I have a better chance against him. So, I am building habits, writing in the same place, the same chair, at the same time. Habits do not save me entirely from my Shadow, but it allows less space for him to get in. I have stopped waiting for inspiration, but am hunting the creative spark in myself with work and effort. I am building my muscles through regular practice to fight back against my Shadow.
My Shadow left me today, he stayed behind, wanting to be comfortable and safe. I chose to go into the light, into a new unexplored direction. I might not get to my destination today, but I will take a step toward it. Whatever I do, however I struggle, I will be authentic. My Shadow left me today, but I know he will be back tomorrow and I will again fight to share my truth.